The Hill | 21 Oct 2013
American agriculture, GMOs and Europe
By Andreas Geiger
There are two interesting developments for the US agricultural industry going on currently in EU politics. First, studies linking genetically modified crops with adverse effects on the environment or animal health are based on “contested science”, according to a report by the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC), which received backing from Anne Glover, the EU’s chief scientific advisor. The report from EASAC, published in June 2013, warns of “grave scientific, economic and social consequences of current European Union policy towards GM crops,” saying European countries should “rethink” their widespread rejection of the technology. Further, the second round of talks for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) was scheduled to take place in Brussels in October 2013 but was cancelled due to the US administration shutdown.
But the TTIP could be the ultimate way to solve the GMO dispute at the same time. There are major issues which need to be resolved before a free-trade agreement can come into effect. The divergence is particularly visible with regard to the mentioned sale of genetically modified food products. While the United States has embraced GMOs and regulated GM food products as if they were equal to non-GM food, the EU has always imposed heavy restrictions on GM food through a series of labeling requirements and by limiting the approvals for the cultivation of GMO crops. US farmers have been frustrated by these barriers for years and the US government is pushing towards concessions by the EU in this area. In fact, the US Senate Finance committee has recently stressed that any agreement must also reduce EU restrictions, among others, on genetically modified crops. Reaching consensus on this contentious issue is vital to successful negotiations of the TTIP.
Despite the considerable regulatory differences in approach towards GMOs and the risk that they pose to the conclusion of the trade agreement, consensus may still be reached if agriculture and patent based US industry stop relying on their government to lobby their interests in Europe. But engage in direct, hard core lobbying activity themselves. US diplomacy alone will not do it.
The EU-US FTA talks are a unique opportunity for agriculture big business to make their voice heard in the EU and implement their interests effectively, while at the same time paving the way for the successful conclusion of the trade talks. The TTIP offers the perfect vehicle to overcome the overwhelming opposition to GMOs in the EU, if companies learnt from past mistakes and engaged directly and in a meaningful manner with the EU institutions and regulatory bodies, treating their EU efforts equally to their efforts in Washington D.C. Interested parties should do what they do in DC: Rely on professional lobbying services to mitigate concerns falsely attributed to GMOs associating genetically modified crops with environmental risks or with safety hazards for food.
There is a need to engage seriously through government relations work instead of simply public affairs work to counter commonly held views across Europe. Past failures can also be attributed to an American lack of sensitivity about the Brussels lobbying scene. No European tries to lobby Senate or Cngress without the help of a DC lobbying firm. For good reasons. So why do some American companies still think they can handle themselves? While there is real money at stake. US companies should seek professional lobbying services on the TTIP issue, and especially lobby firms that understand the agricultural EU politics, process and rules of engagement in Brussels. They should rely on firms that understand sensitivities in Europe. Companies that will rely on specialized lobby firms, which will come up with the most convincing arguments by understanding the political and social realities on both sides of the Atlantic will have the best chance to change Brussels’ stance on GMOs now.
So while the differences in transatlantic approach towards GM foods pose a concrete threat to the conclusion of the trade agreement, the trade talks themselves provide the ultimate opportunity to enable the authorization and cultivation of GM crops in Europe. The TTIP would be the biggest free-trade deal in the world. According to the Centre for Economic Policy Research in London a trade agreement which eliminates tariffs and reduces non-tariff barriers could boost US and EU economic growth by more than $100 billion a year.
Geiger is managing partner of Alber & Geiger, a leading EU lobbying law firm.